Research: Is There a Link Between Pre-Term Birth and Calcium Deposits?

We often don’t know why a baby is born preterm. What caused the mother’s contractions to begin early? What caused her water to break so far before the due date? Preterm births can have dire, lifelong consequences for babies, so we want to prevent them if possible. It’s hard to prevent something, though, if you don’t know why it is happening.

My team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Yale University has recently published research that may have solved part of the mystery.

First, some background. The fetus develops inside a tough but flexible amniotic sac. When a mother’s “water breaks” during labor, the sac ruptures. That should happen around 40 weeks of pregnancy. In many cases of preterm birth, the sac ruptures weeks or months early.

We examined sacs that had ruptured very early and found hard calcium deposits that we did not expect. We actually found signs that bone was starting to form on these sacs – a big surprise. The sacs are likely less flexible and more prone to breaking early because of calcium deposits and beginnings of bone.

How did they get there? Calcium is present throughout the body. It’s mostly in the skeleton, but other parts of the body need it as well. When calcium builds up in some places, though, it can lead to problems. Kidney stones are often made of calcium, for example.

A certain protein in our bodies helps prevent calcium deposits. In the course of our research, we discovered:

  • The fluid inside the amniotic sac actually makes particles that lead to calcium deposits
  • Women whose water broke very early had less of the protein that prevents deposits than other women
  • Bone starts to form when the particles that lead to calcium deposits are combined with cells from the amniotic sac

So we now know why water may break very early. We are still figuring out what to do with that knowledge. By measuring the levels of the deposit-preventing protein, we may be able to tell which pregnant women are most at risk of preterm birth. And because we already know that what we eat and drink can be important in limiting kidney stones and other calcium deposits formed in blood vessels as we age, we may be able to develop diet guidelines that would help limit preterm birth as well.

There is a lot of work left, but our research will continue so we can give babies their best chance at a healthy life.

For more information on The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Irina Buhimschi, MD
Dr. Irina Buhimschi serves as director of the Center for Perinatal Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She is also a tenured professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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